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What happens if I can't pay my Council Tax?

Advice on what to do if you are experiencing issues paying your Council Tax, or owe us money.

If you are experiencing issues paying your Council Tax, or owe us money, please contact us and we will do all we can to help if you. Alternatively, you can contact Citizens' Advice or other charities/agencies for independent help. Further details are available on our Help with money and debt page.

Action taken


We will send you a reminder if you forget to pay your Council Tax and in some circumstances a second reminder may be issued. If you receive a Final Notice you will lose your right to pay by instalments and the full balance will become payable. If you cannot pay in full it is important that you contact us to discuss your account.

Summons and Liability Orders

If you do not pay your Council Tax you will receive a Magistrates Court summons, the court will then decide if you are responsible to pay the full amount (known as a Liability Order). If we issue a summons and liability order, £82.50 costs will be added to what you owe us and further costs could be added if you do not pay straight away.

Under the powers granted by the Magistrates we can take action without giving you further notice.

  • Taking money from your wages: If you are working, we can order your employer to take an amount, set by law, from your wage or salary before you are paid. Your employer can also charge you a small fee for doing this
  • Taking money from your benefits: If you are in receipt of Income Support, Job Seekers Allowance or Universal Credit, we can ask the Department for Works and Pensions to take money from your benefit. Generally they will only be able to do this if other money is not already being taken.

Liability order refunds

Following a review conducted by the Ministry of Justice in 2018, it was identified that magistrate court fees paid for Council Tax and Business Rates liability orders, applied for between April 2014 and July 2018, were inadvertently set, by them, above the cost of service. During the above period the relevant fee was set at £3 whereas the cost to HM Courts & Tribunals Service to process the application was 50p - resulting in a £2.50 overcharge that has now been refunded to councils.

If you paid court fees between April 2014 and July 2018 you may be able to claim a refund of £2.50 for each liability order. To make a claim please send an email to with your full name, Council Tax account number, address of the relevant property, a copy of your court summons and proof of payment.

A refund will not be made where the court costs and Council Tax/Business Rates have not been paid in full for any liability order in which costs were awarded in the period April 2014 to July 2018. If you have a current liability for Council Tax/Business Rates, at the same address, any refund of £2.50 will be applied to your current liability.

If you wish to apply for a refund, please note that the deadline for claims is 31 March 2024. 

Enforcement agents (bailiffs)

We may instruct Enforcement Agents to collect the debt on our behalf, and if left unpaid, they may take your belongings to sell at public auction. This will help raise the money to pay your debt. You will be given 14 days notice before your belongings are taken. You can prevent this by paying the debt to enforcement agents together with any charges or costs that may have arisen.

You can sign an agreement with the Enforcement Agent to prevent your goods being taken. This is called a "Controlled Goods" agreement. This confirms you will pay the debt over a period of time. If you keep the agreement the debt will eventually clear and this will be the end of the matter. If you fail to keep the agreement you will incur further costs and risk having your goods removed for sale.

The Enforcement Agent carries the written authorisation of the council.


The Enforcement Agent is entitled to make charges. You will have to pay these as well as the unpaid Council Tax. The amount of the charges will depend on how long you wait before paying or making an arrangement with the Enforcement Agent.

There may be two fees payable

  • Compliance fee  £75.00 This will be charged by the Enforcement Agents on receipt of a Liability Order from the council
  • Enforcement fee £235.00 (plus 7.5% for amounts over £1500). This will be applied when the Enforcement Agent has attended the property for the first time

Standard fees that may be applied are £310.00 (plus 7.5% of amounts over £1500), however If goods are removed to be sold, further fees will become payable. If an arrangement is made, the Enforcement Agent will take the Compliance Fee of £75.00 with the first payment. If the debtor does not respond to the first letter an Enforcement Agency sends, the Enforcement Agent will attend the debtors address to take control of the goods. This is when an additional enforcement fee will be payable.

The Enforcement Agent can take control of debtor's goods if they are located on a highway, or on premises that he has a power to enter. The Enforcement Agent may enter premises without a warrant in order to search for and take control of goods where he believes it is the place where the debtor usually lives or carries on a trade or business.

Special circumstances

If you are elderly and have difficulty in coping, are disabled, suffer from long-term sickness or serious illness, have recently been bereaved, are a single parent family, have difficulty understanding English, or are on Universal Credit, you, or someone acting on your behalf should make the Enforcement Agent aware of your position.

The Enforcement Agent will be able to take account of your individual circumstances before deciding what further action is appropriate.  

Charging Order

If you owe at least £1,000 we can apply to the County Court to place a "Charge" on your property. When the property is sold we get the money we are owed before you get any money from the sale. In certain cases we may be able to force your property to be sold.

Being made bankrupt

If you owe us money we can ask the County Court to start bankruptcy action. If you are made bankrupt all your belongings and assets will become the property of the Receiver. You will be unable to get credit and your bankruptcy will be widely known.

Going to prison

If the Enforcement Agents are unable to seize belongings to the value of the debt, we may apply to the court for you to go to prison. You will have to explain to the Magistrates why you have not paid.

If they decide your failure to pay has been due to refusal or neglect, they can send you to prison for up to 3 months. In some cases, this can be suspended if payment is made to the Magistrates' Order. You will get extra costs on your account for this action.

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Last modified on 27 November 2023